In this graduation season, there will be many commencement speeches made around the world. I always find this time particularly uplifting – a call to look to the future, to work hard for your dreams, and to never stop trying to achieve them. Recently, a friend sent me the transcript of Emory College’s keynote address, given by renowned epidemiologist William Foege. I was so moved by it that I wanted to share a briefer version of his incredible insights with you.
“Lessons I am Still Desperately Trying to Learn”
Chapter 1: Obituaries
Every day we edit our obituaries. It’s not until you get older that you realize how good a life has been. Consciously, edit your obituary each day so you may realize that sooner; edit with care and gusto.
Chapter 2: Life Plans
50 years ago, everyone’s advice was to develop a life plan. Times have changed. My advice? Avoid a life plan. You enter a world of infinite possibilities, confusing ideas and continuous changes. A life plan will only limit your future.
Chapter 3: Instead of a life plan, develop a life philosophy
And then you will have tools to evaluate every fork in the road. What is truly important to you?
Chapter 4: Integrate your world of knowledge
Become globalists, concentrated on the needs of the group rather than your own needs. Be good ancestors – remember the children of the future have given you’re their proxy and are asking for you to make good decisions. Because each of us can do so little, it’s important we do our part. It may be a little contribution, but we each have to make that contribution.
Chapter 5: Actively seek mentors
Identify people who have the traits, ideas, and philosophies you want and get their help, always asking “how best to live?” Borrow their wisdom. I’m in my eighties, and I still seek mentors. Many of them much younger than me.
Chapter 6: The world is expanding
For all the problems of the world, I tell you there has never been a better time to be alive and enjoy that. An example: you have been exposed to as much knowledge in one year of college as Aristotle was in his entire lifetime.
Chapter 7: Seek equity
I avoided dying of tuberculosis, food poisoning, toxic water because of a government and much more – not because I deserved it but because of a coalition of government, religious institutions, and public and private groups all conspiring to help me, born in this country. And your story is the same. So what can we do? Seek equity and justice so others can tell that story someday.
Chapter 8: Seek serendipity
We often think of serendipity as a random good fortune, but the original story tells about three men, finding small clues that other people missed, figured out where the lost camel of Serendip (now Sri Lanka) was. We are told this can be learned by living in the moment and looking for connections. Thoreau said: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
Chapter 9: Civilization
We like to feel we are civilized, but how do we measure that? All usual measures (science, wealth, education) fail, except one. How people treat each other. Kindness is the measure of a civilized person, of a civilized university, of a civilized state. It is the measure of a civilized nation. How you treat people is the healing force in the world.
And finally, Chapter 10: Finding our way home
In the book “Cutting for Stone,” there is an unforgettable line, and may this phrase stick with you forever: “Home is not where you are from. Home is where you are needed.”
As I congratulate you on what you have done, I also hope we all find our way home.
Read the full transcript here.
Congratulations to all of the 2017 graduates!!